Lauren Snedeker is the Coordinator for the Aging & Health Certificate Program at Rutgers School of Social Work. Rutgers University’s School of Social Work has a Master’s certificate in Social Work in Aging and Health that offers students the opportunity to take a select number of classes that focus on aging and health and experience fieldwork toward their degree in aging and health-related settings.
“We are really interested and dedicated to debunking the myths around aging and connecting with more agencies that service older adults that one wouldn’t associate with aging,” said Snedeker.
One example she gave is the fact that it is not just the general population who are greying, but also the prison population. Other communities such as the homeless or those affected by substance abuse or the opioid epidemic are not less affected by aging.
“These fields are not exclusive to younger people and if we are living longer we are living with all of our stuff!” said Snedeker.
Snedeker’s academic team is committed to exposing students not just to older people in senior homes and hospitals but in the whole range of life that aging affects. With that in mind, she shared some of the aging myths she likes to debunk with her students.
5 Aging Myths that need to be Debunked
- Depression is a normal part of Aging — While depression can certainly occur as we age and accumulate experiences and losses, that does not mean that all older people are depressed! Many are living healthy, happy, and active lives!
- Social work with older adults means only working in a nursing home, assisted living, hospital, or hospice — Those places often serve older people but they are living life in many other ways. Many are active in their family and friend communities by participating in events, volunteering, and meeting with different social circles.
- It is normal to end up in a care setting and it is not a big change — The truth of the matter is ending up in a care setting is a big change. People who work their whole life to own a house — sometimes they haven’t even paid it off — have one tragic event that turns their whole life upside down. Suddenly, they are no longer making decisions for themselves and now other people are seemingly in charge. To go from being the master of your own universe to a shared living or assisted living situation — is not an easy life change. There are ways to facilitate this change and adapt, but it is normal that it comes as a bit of a shock to most people.
- Working with Older Adults Is Anxiety Inducing- Many people have anxiety around aging and oftentimes they bring this to working with older adults, which can create even more anxiety. The reality of working with older adults is that it can be an excellent learning experience, fun, and truly enjoyable — sure there can be sad and hard moments, but that’s like any phase of life!
- Working with Older Adults Focuses on What’s Wrong — Unfortunately, most intake forms start with ‘what is wrong’ and while of course, the deficits need to be addressed, — that’s not all there is. Working with older adults also focuses on strengths, resilience, and motivations for engagement. Older adults have lots of positive and happy experiences to share so it’s not just looking at what’s wrong but also at what’s right!
Focusing on What’s Right, Fun, and Engaging
After years of working with older adults, Snedeker knows first hand that the work can be fun and engaging. One of her favorite opportunities was working at a senior center where they had a number of discussion topics.
“One talk was about sex after 60. We were reading a book (not 50 Shades of Grey, another book) and the book and our conversation helped these women be seen as human beings and not just older adults.”
Aging doesn’t mean that you don’t have all the same desires and needs as you did in your youth! There need to be more conversations around these lesser spoken about aspects of aging that affect large portions of the population. Topics from sex and relationships as one ages to greying prisoners, homeless people on the streets, and those battling substance abuse. Everyone is greying, and taking their problems both big and small with them!
Baby boomers aren’t always who you think they are and yet they can be many things. They aren’t suits and ties. They grew up in the 60s and many experimented with drugs. They pioneered the public LGBT movement. They fought for civil rights and equality. They are parents. They are single. They are divorced. They live in multi-generational homes. They have multi-lingual and multi-ethnic family structures. This demographic has different people and diverse values. If we don’t start to recognize that we won’t be able to serve the needs of these individuals.
Communities are rising to address these positive aspects of aging. GetSetUp for example is offering economic opportunities and learning opportunities to seniors to teach their peers technology, how to use various online tools, and other skills around staying connected. Everything Zoomer is the lifestyle site for the discriminating, with features ranging from food & entertainment, celebrity & style, arts & culture, sex & relating, health & fitness, travel & finance … and so much more! Sixty and Me is a women’s blog dedicated to empowering women over 60. Boomer Cafe is a site for where baby boomers with active, youthful lifestyles share stories and it gives all baby boomers a “voice.”
More and more communities like this are popping up to tailor to older adults at large or around more segmented topics. Nevertheless, society as a whole needs to look at a few key questions.
6 key questions that society needs to be addressing to support seniors
- What are the challenges for aging adults to get the resources they need?
- Where do they go for affordable physical and medical support?
- How can older adults stay connected and engaged as they age?
- What subsidized housing options are available for those who can no longer afford their homes?
- What are non-dominant ways of aging and what communities are involved?
- What safety nets and alternatives do we have for people who have worked hard their whole lives, but can no longer afford to sustain themselves with the high costs of living, Medicare, and prescription drugs so that they can age with dignity and in comfort?
Aging comes with a big-ticket price tag depending on the level of care and comfort required in many cases double or triple what an individual was usually spending for a similar quality of life when they were younger. We need to create communities and care methods that provide affordable support, economic opportunities, and community engagement — Older people are here and we need to assure our community is supporting them!